Monday, January 6, 2014

Space That Calls for Whispers

First there was this:

Now there's this:

Sparks fell from the platform like dying stars.

Some lost their light seconds after they were born while others, hotter, fell through the blackness drifting on drafts in that empty space. They eye followed them, and when currents of air blasted them to and fro, it was as if gravity shifted with them, first to the right, then down, then to the left, up and sideways and back towards us again, cutting on the platform.
I closed my eyes. To watch the sparks too long might mean a fall.
We have come too far for falling.
Water drifted through the cavern’s air as well, trickling and dripping and rushing through the curved concrete surface, trailing tree roots with it as it fell. The floor of the cavern was an archipelago of shattered concrete, crumbled bunkers, rusted equipment and pools and floods and ripples and torrents of cold black water.
It took us three years to map the cavern, another year to find a safe path through it. I remember as a child seeing the maps of it, traced in glowing paint on the wall of our hidden room. Father was one of the cartographers. There were many. Many, so the map and its details would not be lost if one of the mapmakers was caught out and sent to the Roots to rot. I played a game with that map, tracing routes to the fairylands and forests with my finger. I saw it in my eyes at night when I was supposed to be sleeping.
With it, I told my sister stories.
“There be the dragons,” I said, pointing to a large, hilly island near the center of the cavern. “Fire-breathers, quite dangerous. But they keep their fires low. They do not want to be found out. They live a balance between the fire that feeds them and the water that surrounds them and that could put their fires out.”
The map’s glowing lines reflected in her eyes, and she whispered, “Take me to see them. Take me to see the dragons.”
I told her of the trolls. The dwarves and the witches and the blind rats, eyes bulging, never seeing light, ever craving the flesh of humans. She shivered and giggled. “The rats make the dragons sound tame,” she said.
And that is true.
The rats are the most dangerous creatures in the cavern, imagined or not. We lost more explorers and watchers and guides and bearers to the rats than we lost to the Roots.
But when the lights of one faded, the eyes of two brought their light to the circle, ready to work, ready to escape.
Gabe, my favorite watcher, told me stories as well.
“The cavern used to be bright,” he said. “It used to see daylight, moonlight, starlight. I have seen the lamps and traced the grooves in the concrete where the stars and moon and sun followed their paths across the sky. It must have been wonderful,” he added. “It must have been wonderful, to live among the light.”
Father liked that my sister and I looked at the map. He gave us what paint he could spare, and with it we drew our own maps in different corners of the bunker. “The more light your eyes receive, the quicker you’ll adjust to life Outside,” he said. “There, the light is real.” In the light of the map I could see his pale face, lined with wrinkles, stubbled with a beard. He has a mole underneath his right eye.
His eyes are blue.
He said his mother, her mother, and her mother as well also had blue eyes. But their eyes were much more blue than his – and ours. The circles of blue in their eyes were wider, the black pupils smaller. In the light of the map-room, his pupil was only tinged with the slimmest of blue rims.
“Stare at the light,” he whispered. “Stare at the lights. Exercise your eyes.”
Exercise your eyes.
He told us that every morning. Exercise your eyes. It made my sister giggle-whisper, to think looking at our maps was good for the eyes.
There were places in the caverns where there was more light and where people had eyes that were blue, or green, or hazel, or grey, or any other number of colors. But those places were near to the Roots and we knew enough about them to fear going there. There were rooms there where the light was so bright it burned your skin and shone through your eyelids even if you covered your eyes with your hands.
Thus the conundrum.
For through the cavern roof, pas the roots and waterfalls, was a place where the light was even more intense. And that is where we are trying to go.

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